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Ukrainians bravely ‘playing for time’


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Sviatoslav Yurash is well-known in Ukraine. At 26, he’s the youngest member of the country’s parliament ever. Now he is just one of the thousands of Ukrainians picking up a gun and helping to defend their country from a Russian attack.

“Everybody is joining,” Sviat said. “We are all taking up arms.”

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In fact, the resistance of the Ukrainians to a better-equipped Russian army has been impressive. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the Ukrainian soldiers “are really proving their bravery and courage by fighting and standing up to a much larger and invading force.” The Ukrainian army itself has gotten much better since the Russians rolled over them in 2014, nabbing two chunks of territory.

“They’re responding exceptionally well to the horrors of Putin’s invasion,” said Peter Dickinson, a Kyiv-based analyst for the Atlantic Council. What they’ve done is fended off what analysts say was a Russian President Vladimir Putin dream of a fast Ukrainian takeover. 

“Their plan was to quickly occupy the capital and install a puppet government,” according to Michailo Wynnycky, author of “Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War.”  

In optimistic thinking reminiscent of past Great Power incursions, Kremlin insiders seemed to expect their soldiers to be met with flowers and praise. 

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Instead, thanks to ubiquitous cellphones in Ukraine, we’ve seen videos of people standing in front of Russian tanks to halt their forward progress, Ukrainian grannies and grandpas giving on-the-street lectures to young Russian soldiers, kids hurling their prized bikes under military truck treads to turn them away, and of course those brave defenders of the Black Sea Snake Island naval base telling a Russian battleship to “f— off!”

Still, the feeling one gets, monitoring the first few days of this invasion, is the Ukrainians are mostly “playing for time.”  

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A lot of the recent skirmishes have been with Russian “saboteurs,” Special Force and Airborne soldiers flown in behind the lines, to cause trouble. The full force of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and armaments are still dutifully rolling toward their destinations, number one of which is the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

“The fear is Russian forces could go to unspeakable lengths,” Atlantic Council’s Dickinson noted, “mass killings … Syria-style carpet bombings.”

The sense one gets from the new national hero, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, is, if he can show the world a bit more of what the Ukrainians are made of, he can try to “even up the odds,” including: building up anti-Russian sanctions (the international Swift banking system is now set to be out of bounds for the Russians); boosting Ukraine’s military hardware (Germany finally breaking down and actually allowing lethal aid to be sent to Kyiv); and maybe even getting the Russians to “talk” instead of “shoot” (negotiations are now set for a site on the Ukraine-Belarus border between Kyiv and Moscow).

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But all of this would be too neat an ending for a nasty threat from one of the globe’s true bad guys, Vladimir Putin, who aims to turn Ukraine into a docile neighbor. Now, he’s also talking about putting his nuclear forces on high alert, which is why 26-year-old Sviat is walking the dark streets of Kyiv these days, armed only with a long gun, looking for Russian infiltrators.  

Trying to thwart what he calls Putin’s “hope for a Blitzkrieg.” That is, he adds, “if we survive.”

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